Wednesday was the day astronomers said goodbye to the old Milky Way they had known and loved and hello to a new view of our home galaxy.
A European Space Agency mission called Gaia just released a long-awaited treasure trove of data: precise measurements of 1.7 billion stars.
It’s unprecedented for scientists to know the exact brightness, distances, motions and colors of more than a billion stars. The information will yield the best three-dimensional map of our galaxy ever.
“This is a very big deal. I’ve been working on trying to understand the Milky Way and the formation of the Milky Way for a large fraction of my scientific career, and the amount of information this is revealing in some sense is thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times larger than any amount of information we’ve had previously,” said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute. “We’re really talking about an immense change to our knowledge about the Milky Way.”
The Gaia spacecraft launched in 2013 and is orbiting our sun, about a million miles away from Earth. Although it has surveyed a huge number of stars, Gaia is charting only about 1 percent of what is out there. The Milky Way contains around 100 billion stars
For 7 million stars, Gaia even has measurements showing their velocity as they move toward or away from the spacecraft. “This is just a fantastic new addition,” said Anthony Brown of the Netherlands’ Leiden University, with the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.
In 2016, Gaia released some initial results but that was just a tease compared with Wednesday’s massive data dump. Astronomers around the world have been planning how to attack it for months, knowing that discoveries are just waiting in there for the taking.
“Enjoy it,” Antonella Vallenari, another member of the consortium from the Astronomical Observatory of Padua in Italy, said at a news conference as she announced that the data was becoming available.
The European team presented new images of our galaxy based on some initial analyses of the data, along with little movies that simulated what it would be like to fly through the stars. “It’s not fake, it’s real measurements,” Brown said. “We know exactly where the stars are.”
Scientists around the world who were watching the event online struggled to take it all in. “This is like massive scientific progress and we were blinked an image,” said Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, one of more than a dozen astronomers who woke up before dawn and gathered together at the Flatiron Institute in New York City to watch.
Then it was time to play, as the scientists bent their heads over their laptops and tried to download data. Researchers are expecting a slew of discoveries in the coming hours and days, but analyses will go on for years and even decades.
“This is the data we’re going to be working on for the rest of my career. Probably no data set will rival this,” Faherty said. “It’s the excitement of the day that we see it. It’s why we were up at 5 a.m. to get here. It’s exciting to be around each other and trying to get the data all at once. It’s a day we’re going to remember.”
House Democrats Subpoena Full Mueller Report, and the Underlying Evidence
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee formally issued a subpoena on Friday demanding that the Justice Department hand over to Congress an unredacted version of Robert S. Mueller III’s report and all of the evidence underlying it by May 1.
The subpoena, one of the few issued thus far by House Democrats, escalates a fight with Attorney General William P. Barr over what material Congress is entitled to see from the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation. The chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, asked for all evidence, including summaries of witness interviews and classified intelligence.
“My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates. It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”
Mr. Nadler’s deadline falls a day before Mr. Barr is scheduled to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee in what is expected to be an explosive session where Democrats plan to excoriate Mr. Barr’s handling of the report and Republicans will urge their colleagues to accept that there was no criminality and move on.
Mr. Barr released to Congress and the public a redacted copy of the more than 400-page report on Thursday. Though the redactions were less extensive than some Democrats feared, the Justice Department had blacked out sections of the report that it said contained classified material, secretive grand jury testimony or information that would affect investigations still underway.
Democrats have been threatening to issue a subpoena for weeks, and the Justice Department on Thursday sought to head off the subpoena with a pledge to share more information with Congress.
Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter that the department would allow the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the heads of their judiciary and intelligence committees, to view a fuller version of the report beginning next week. But he said even that copy would still have secretive grand jury information blacked out because of legal requirements.
Given the sensitive nature of the information, Mr. Boyd wrote, “all individuals reviewing the less-redacted version” must agree to keep the newly unredacted information confidential.
Mr. Nadler rejected the proposed accommodation as insufficient on Friday. He has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to join him in requesting that a court unseal the grand jury information, in particular, for Congress to review privately. Mr. Barr has so far rejected that request.
“I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials,” he said, “however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability.”
(Reporting by Washington Post)
Judge Rejects Anti-Vaxxer Lawsuit Against New York City’s Vaccine Mandate
A state judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccination parents who sought to lift New York City’s new measles vaccination mandate, as parts of the metropolis continue to face an outbreak.
“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” Judge Lawrence Knipel wrote in his ruling. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”
Five anonymous parents in Brooklyn filed the lawsuit earlier this week against the city health department for ordering the mandatory vaccinations in parts of the borough amid a growing outbreak of the measles virus concentrated in the Williamsburg area. The lawsuit said the city’s response is “irrational,” and that the spread of the virus does not pose a clear danger to public health.
Knipel ruled that the city’s decision to require measles vaccinations during the outbreak is supported by “largely uncontroverted” evidence.
New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot issued the emergency order on April 9, requiring everyone who lives and works within four Brooklyn ZIP codes to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine if they hadn’t already gotten it. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in misdemeanor punishments, including criminal fines or imprisonment.
The city has already issued summons to three people who refused the mandate and face $1,000 in fines.
As of Wednesday, the measles outbreak has infected at least 329 people since October, mostly children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, according to Barbot. Many Orthodox Jewish people believe vaccinations go against Jewish or Talmudic law, resulting in low vaccination rates for some communities.
Barbot praised the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in a statement to HuffPost that it “will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences.”
She added that officials “do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health ― to get vaccinated.”
(Reporting by HuffPost)
Federal Appeals Court Backs California Laws To Protect Immigrants
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state’s efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.
The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration’s request to block law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, as well as to throw out a law barring employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected U.S. District Judge John Mendez’s reasoning last year for denying a portion of the third law, which requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. It ruled that the section requiring the state to review circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of detainees puts an impermissible burden on the federal government.
But the appellate panel said Mendez can consider rejecting a preliminary injunction for that section on other legal grounds.
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has repeatedly sued the Trump administration mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, said the ruling shows that states’ rights “continue to thrive.”
“We continue to prove in California that the rule of law not only stands for something but that people cannot act outside of it,” Becerra said in a statement.
California officials have said the immigration laws promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while the administration argued the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.
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